12 x 12 Member Heather PreusserI can’t even begin to say how excited I am to share my friend Heather Preusser’s “How I Got My Agent” story with you. You see, Heather is a real-life friend who lives right here in Colorado, and we’ve been in a critique group together for four years. I’ve loved Heather’s writing since Day 1, and trust me when I tell you she is going to be a SUPER star. Not only does she write heartfelt and hilarious picture books, but she’s also on submission with a middle grade novel. She does both high-concept and humor, and quiet and meaningful, equally well. Please welcome… Heather!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I started writing children’s picture books in the spring of 2011 when I enrolled in a class with Linda Ashman at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver. (If you ever have the opportunity to work with Linda, I HIGHLY recommend it.) Of course, that summer I made the rookie mistake of sending out manuscripts too soon. Crickets. I attended my first SCBWI Rocky Mountain conference that fall and realized just how much I had left to learn.

True story: While my query letter was being critiqued in one of the conference sessions, I actually put my coat on in an attempt to cover up my nametag; I didn’t want anyone connecting me with that awful query letter, the one where I sounded like a high school English teacher applying for a teaching job rather than a writer trying to capture the tone and style of a picture book manuscript. That humbling learning experience helped me see that I had no idea what I was doing; I wasn’t ready to submit my manuscripts. I spent a few years focusing on craft, going back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing, joining critique groups, and participating in both online and in-person workshops. Almost three years later, some of my stories were placing in little contests, and the critiques I was receiving from agents participating the Writer’s Digest webinars I’d signed up for encouraged me to submit to them through traditional means. I was getting closer.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
While focusing on craft, I started following blogs, like Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating: Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children and Chuck Sambuchino’s New Agency Alerts. Every time they mentioned a new agent who fit my criteria, I added the information to my Excel spreadsheet, which I cleverly titled “Dream Agents.”

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
In the winter of 2014, I queried eleven agents. Three responded asking for additional manuscripts (My soon-to-be agent Janine Le at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency got back to me in one week!). I received a form rejection from one agent and never heard from the others.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
I wasn’t looking for an agent who focused solely on picture books. As part of my MFA, I wrote a middle grade novel, so, ideally, I wanted an agent who represented picture books through young adult; however, I didn’t think my novel was submission-ready, so I didn’t mention it to Janine initially.

How did you know your agent was “the one?
In addition to Janine’s patience and understanding (a family emergency came up shortly after I contacted her, which meant we had to postpone our first phone conversation), I appreciated every piece of editorial feedback she gave me. Every comment rang true. When she told me she was also a wordsmith, I knew we’d be a perfect fit.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you 🙂 )
Although I didn’t find my agent through 12×12, the community most definitely helped me, particularly when I was living in Germany with my new husband and his family. I felt isolated and uninspired; because of the language barrier, I couldn’t glean story ideas by eavesdropping on conversations or checking out books from the local library. (My husband, however, did translate and read picture books aloud to me whenever we went in bookstores.) That year my husband and I rented an apartment in Berlin, and after throwing our own Thanksgiving feast, I sat down determined to make the 12×12 Winner’s Wall. I entered what Donald Graves calls “a state of constant composition” and managed to write eight first drafts between Thanksgiving and Christmas, eight new stories I wouldn’t have birthed then and there without that Julie-imposed deadline. They were far from elegant, but at least I had something down on paper, something to work with. Sadly, I have yet to make the Wall; that year I was one manuscript short.

There’s also a wealth of knowledge that’s shared in the 12×12 community, which was instrumental as I researched agents, how to write query letters, etc. It was through 12×12 that I learned of other wondrous kidlit resources, such as Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story, and Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic” class.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
I’m still exploring what it means to have an agent and how that affects my writing process. Janine has encouraged me to run ideas by her in any genre, and – more importantly, I think – she’s encouraged me to work on projects I’m passionate about.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Take your time. Learn your craft. Of the four picture book manuscripts I submitted to Janine, two were the 18th draft, while the other two were drafts 12 and 20. And we’re still revising!

In the process of revising, you’ll need to kill some of your proverbial darlings, but you’ll also need to stay true to the story and yourself as a writer. In her first email response, Janine said I caught her attention with a particular line that many people told me to cut (either they didn’t understand my humor or they didn’t understand cow anatomy or both), but I liked it so I kept it in draft after draft after draft. I’m learning over time to trust myself as a writer.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Although I wrote and recorded reviews for Katie Davis’s podcast Brain Burps About Books, and Katie recommended that I create an author website, I didn’t have much of a web presence when I contacted Janine, and I only dabbled in the Twitterverse; however, in our first conversation Janine referenced my query letter, asking if I was still reviewing MG and YA novels for Katie’s podcast. It made a difference that I was involved in the industry, that I was actively participating in the online kidlit community (blogs, webinars, podcasts, etc.).

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point 🙂 )
I’ve always wanted to learn another language. Despite living in Germany for almost two years, right now my German only consists of useful, fun-to-remember words, like Formfleischvorderschinken (ham), Eisenbahnbetriebsordnung (railroad rules) and Taschenfederkernmatratze (mattress with springs in it). Like David Sedaris, I hope that I too will “talk pretty one day.”

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
After finishing another round of revisions on my middle grade novel, we sent it out to editors. I’m also currently revising a handful of picture book manuscripts.

Heather teaches high school English in Colorado. When she’s not teaching, reading or writing, she enjoys telemark skiing, rock climbing and learning ridiculously long German words. You can find her on Twitter at @HeatherPreusser.

P.S. Are you looking for an agent who represents picture books? Four of them are participating in the Picture Book Summit online conference October 3rd, and will be accepting submissions from attendees! Registration closes Friday at midnight though, so act fast if you’re interested!

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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anti-resolutionThree years ago I wrote a blog post that garnered quite a bit of attention. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. I skipped 2013, but got back on track in 2014. I’m bringing this tradition with me into 2015, and I’ve asked participants in my 12 Days of Christmas for Writers program to do the same.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one…  Lose weight = I weigh too much…  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Write more often = I don’t write enough

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation… Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done

It is CRITICAL to reflect on what you DID accomplish in the previous year. How else can you build from the base you already have? If you don’t take the time to tally up and celebrate what you’ve already accomplished, your resolutions will crumble. You’ll be starting from scratch in every category, and starting from scratch feels scary.

Here is what GOALS (vs. resolutions) look like when crafted this way. Lose weight = What did I do last year to improve my health, and what can I do to continue that progress? Make more money = How much money did I make last year, from which sources, and how can I increase output from those sources and add new ones? Write more often = What did I write this year and how am I going to use that writing in the new year while also writing new stories/articles/books, etc.?

Because I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself, I’ve invited 12 Days of Christmas for Writers participants to post their successes on their blogs and websites too. Feel free to share links to your posts in the comments here!

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2014. 

  1. I wrote 7 new picture book drafts and revised 12. Plus I wrote a book proposal. That’s a personal best for me in terms of volume of writing!!
  2. Launched the third year of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge with a spruced up Membership Forum. Grew to 750 members!
  3. A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS storybook app won the Independent Book Publisher’s Association Benjamin Franklin Digital Gold Award.
  4. A SHIVER OF SHARKS storybook app won a 2014 Digital Book Award.
  5. Attended the first-ever Picture Book Boot Camp with THE Jane Yolen at her home in Massachusetts.
  6. My agent, Erzsi Deak, took my one of my books out on submission (still awaiting responses).
  7. Ran the second annual Writer’s Renaissance retreat in Florence Italy to great success.
  8. Launched a brand new website for Writer’s Renaissance.Me with MLFY
  9. Filed my first tax return as a single, self-employed person.
  10. Launched a comprehensive online course – How to Make Money as a Writer.
  11. Launched The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions (with my friend and colleague Emma Walton Hamilton).
  12. Participated as a speaker in the SCBWI-MI webinar series on the topic of being an Author Entrepreneur.
  13. Met with all Denver-area bookstores to plan events for the launch of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN and to get them to carry the print version of A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS.
  14. Learned, once and for all, to use Scrivener. I have to credit Joe Michael’s excellent course,* which I keep open every time I write in the program.
  15. Presented at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction conference on the topic of changes in the publishing industry, storybook apps, and connecting with your audience.
  16. Presented at the New Jersey SCBWI conference on the topics of author-entrepreneurship and crowdfunding.
  17. Attended the LA-SCBWI Annual Summer conference and was interviewed by Lee Wind for the Official SCBWI Blog.
  18. MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN released on September 9th!
  19. My first radio show interview took place the day before my book launch party.
  20. Held hugely successful book launch at Saturn Booksellers in my hometown of Gaylord, MI. (psst… Saturn still has signed copies of the book in their store…)
  21. Visited all three elementary schools, for free, in my hometown during my launch week.
  22. Presented at the SCBWI-MI conference on the subject of 21st century publishing.
  23. Presented at my first-ever book festival – The Southern Festival of Books – with MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN illustrator Susan Eaddy.
  24. Conducted school visits and several bookstore signings with Susan Eaddy, including Parnassus Books, The Tattered Cover, The Book Bar, The Bookies, and Boulder Bookstore. (As a public service announcement, ALL of these stores have signed copies of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN)
  25. Fulfilled all the rewards for Kickstarter backers of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN.
  26. MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN was nominated for the 2014 CYBILS awards in the picture book category.
  27. Spent a week in London doing research for my picture book biography.
  28. Launched a brand new website for the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge
  29. Participated in PiBoIdMo and came up with 28 new picture book ideas, one of which is already drafted.
  30. Hired a bookkeeper and have begun to get my business finances in order, not just for tax season but also for planning and forecasting.
  31. Continued to contribute to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast.

I’m quite happy with this list. 🙂

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list! Share in the comments if you’d like. 🙂

*I love Joe’s course so much I became an affiliate. That means if you use my link and make a purchase, I get a small commission. As always, I NEVER recommend anything I don’t love and use myself. But it is important to do your own due diligence before making any purchase to determine whether it will work for you and/or meet your needs. 🙂

Categories: 12 x 12, A Shiver of Sharks, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Apps, Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Creativity, Crowdfunding, Holidays, Italy, My Love For You Is The Sun, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, SCBWI, Storybook Apps, Works in Progress, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I’ve been thinking a great deal about the financial viability of being an author this week. I just completed (or rather, started) the launch for my latest picture book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, AND a pre-launch (available only to my blog readers and newsletter subscribers) for a brand new course I created on How to Make Money as a Writer.

So for a Throwback Thursday, I’m re-sharing a Brain Burps podcast episode, featuring myself and Susanna Hill, on this very topic. Everything we discuss in the episode is still as relevant today as they were a year ago. If you are inspired to try the course after listening, I have a pre-launch special running through Friday, September 12th. In the meantime, enjoy the “oldie but goodie” podcast episode. 🙂

Brain Burps BadgeI’m delighted to be a featured guest on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast today, alongside fellow author, friend and 12 x 12 member Susanna Leonard Hill. As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, we discuss the topic of Making Money in Children’s Publishing, but really, it’s applicable to writers of all genres.

For those of us who are not able to live off of book royalties but still need to put food on the table, finding a way to combine the passion and love of writing with the need to earn a living is imperative.

I’m not going to give away the guidance we gave in the podcast – you’ll have to listen for that. BUT, I did figure now would be a good time to share my top three takeaways from The O’Reilly Tools of Change Author (R)evolution conference in New York last week, as the lessons are 100% applicable to this podcast episode.

  1. Writers MUST be Entrepreneurs. The debate is no longer about traditional vs. self-publishing, as there are success stories in both and many authors are taking a hybrid
    Unfortunately, it doesn't grow on trees. We need to earn it and stop making it a taboo subject!

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t grow on trees. We need to earn it and stop making it a taboo subject!

    approach. What makes the difference between a book becoming a success or languishing unnoticed among the hundreds of thousands of new books published every year? It’s the authors who treat themselves, and their books, as a business who thrive.

  2. Social Media is NOT Marketing. It’s a Conversation. If you are using social media networks exclusively to blast information about your books, you are going to bomb. Social media is all about engagement and building an audience and community by sharing, conversing, being helpful. If you come to it from that angle, it can be a very effective engagement tool to motivate your audience and community to support your work.
  3. Writers Must Build Community. A community is more specific than an audience. A community is a group of people who are loyal to you and your work and will follow you everywhere. This does not happen overnight and can be a slow build, but it’s a must for success in 21st century publishing. So for pre-published authors who are wondering whether to take the plunge into social media, blogging, etc.? NOW is the time.

What are you doing to treat your writing and your books like a business?

 

Categories: Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Publishing, Social Media, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Kristen LarsonI would like to say my most favorite thing about Kirsten Larson is that she always has a corkscrew in case of emergencies, but that’s not true. 😉 Having had the pleasure of meeting (and wining and dining) with her on more than one occasion, I can say without a doubt the best thing about Kirsten is her enthusiasm for everything kidlit related. I’ve learned more about the opportunities in nonfiction from her than anyone else. She is single-handedly responsible for convincing me that writing nonfiction can be fun! It has been amazing to watch Kirsten grow as a writer while accumulating success after success over the past 2.5 years. I think, once you read her post, you’ll “catch” her enthusiasm too. Please welcome Kirsten!

I almost can remember the exact moment it started – August 2011. I was retired from journalism, public relations, fundraising, grant writing, and pretty much everything else but feeding and entertaining two boys, aged three and five. We had spent our days with science experiments, playgroups, field trips, and of course reading dozens of books.

During a play date, a recently-returned-to-work-mom asked me about my plans for when the youngest started preschool in the fall. I thought about how much fun it was to watch the kids learn, their eyes lighting up with discovery. I thought about our library visits, with the boys racing through the juvenile nonfiction stacks, pulling everything off the shelves. And then I thought I’d return to writing, but this time for children.Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books. It was destiny. I wrote a half dozen nonfiction picture books. I joined the world’s best critique group. I submitted a few manuscripts to Rate Your Story. They got good reviews, so I subbed them … to crickets. I started writing for an online science and literacy curriculum. I joined SCBWI and went to the annual conference in Los Angeles. I was spinning my wheels.

In January 2013 I regrouped. I signed up for 12 x 12 again, but only as a bronze member. I wrote … wait for it … one picture book manuscript the whole year. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. But 2013 was THE YEAR I became a children’s writer. You see, I had a goal: to break into the children’s magazine market followed by the school and library market.

Science Fair Success! and Using the Scientific Method, from Rourke Educational Media.

In January 2014, I joined 12 x 12 for the third time with renewed gusto. This time I was going for gold. I completely revised two nonfiction PBs from 2012 and 2013 and turned them into ficinformational picture books. To date, I’ve written three more manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction. And I’ve started subbing to agents.

I am a children’s writer, thanks in large part to 12×12 and its networking opportunities. This group introduced me to:

• Julie (ok, that’s a given), everybody loves our fearless leader
• Susanna Leonard Hill and her Making Picture Book Magic Class.
Meg Miller’s ReViMo, which forced me to completely overhaul a couple of manuscripts.
• Miranda Paul and her fantastic Rate Your Story service
• Laura Salas and WRITING FOR THE EDUCATIONAL MARKET, the best book ever on breaking into the field
• My critique groups (you rock!)
WriteOnCon, which helped me connect with my mentor in the school and library market
• I’m sure I’m leaving out others, but you get the idea. Pretty much every blog I read, craft book I buy, etc. is thanks to 12x.

When it comes down to it, the ability to submit to agents outside of the slush is nice. But the best part of 12×12 is the camaraderie and the connections you’ll make. They helped me land the best job in the world.

Kirsten W. Larson is freelance children’s science writer and book author. Her work appears in Boys’ Quest, ASK, ODYSSEY and AppleSeeds. Kirsten spent six years working for NASA and frequently writes about space for kids. She has four forthcoming science titles for children in grades two through six. SCIENCE FAIR SUCCESS and USING THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD are now available for presale here and here.

Categories: 12 x 12, Books, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Recipes, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerWhew! It’s been another busy week with registration for the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge. So much so that I have been remiss in sharing some great opportunities associated with joining.

First, anyone who registers at the Little GOLDen Book level and pays in full by 6:00 p.m. EST on Monday, January 20th is GUARANTEED a picture book query critique by either “query whisperer” Emma Walton Hamilton (who will do as many as she can) or myself.

But that’s not all! The queries will be stripped of identifying information, and Emma and I will be video-recording the critique session. Therefore, you’ll not only get your own query critiqued, but you’ll have full access to a video recording of 100+ picture book query critiques. Emma charges $150 for a single query critique – more than the FULL amount of your 12 x 12 GOLD membership!! I’m not aware of any opportunity like this being offered anywhere, so I hope you’ll take advantage of it while you can.

Second, earlier this week I hosted a live Google+ hangout discussing not only the opportunity for GOLD members of 12 x 12 to submit to agents, but about submissions in general and how to craft a good one. Below is the video recording, which everyone is free to watch and learn from, regardless of whether you plan to join 12 x 12 or not. It covers dos and don’ts of submissions, whether and when it is okay to follow up, and even the age-old question of “Should I send a rhyming manuscript?”

Lastly, I was proud to once-again be a guest on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast discussing this year’s features and benefits of 12 x 12. Here is the link to the episode, which also contains a sneak peek into the Membership Forum.

If you’re thinking of joining 12 x 12, please register soon so you don’t miss any opportunities available to you! Registration closes altogether at the end of February, and the next chance won’t be until 2015.

“The 12 x 12 is really a family of kidlit writers. Although there are various “levels” that offer wonderful, amazing opportunities, it’s the things (IMHO) that can’t be measured, that are the most beneficial to your career. The support, the passion, the sharing of information.” — Elaine Kiely Kearns, founder of KIDLIT411

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Friendship, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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anti-resolutionTwo years ago I wrote a blog post that grabbed the attention and touched the heart of none other than Katie Davis, who is now one of my very best friends. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. Katie was so inspired by that post, she created her own special tool to capture her accomplishments throughout the year and evaluate them at the end. She has graciously offered to share this workbook with you – click here for more info.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one…  Lose weight = I weigh too much…  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Write more often = I don’t write enough

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation.  So I figured, why not start with what I did accomplish this year and set goals from there.  Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year, rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done..

I didn’t write a similar post in 2013, but I should have. It is CRITICAL to reflect on what you DID accomplish in the previous year. How else can you build from the base you already have? If you don’t take the time to tally up and celebrate what you’ve already accomplished, your resolutions will crumble. You’ll be starting from scratch in every category, and starting from scratch feels scary.

Here is what GOALS (vs. resolutions) look like when crafted this way. Lose weight = What did I do last year to improve my health, and what can I do to continue that progress? Make more money = How much money did I make last year, from which sources, and how can I increase output from those sources and add new ones? Write more often = What did I write this year and how am I going to use that writing in the new year while also writing new stories/articles/books, etc.?

Here’s an example from my own year. All year long, in my head, I lamented how little writing I got done. So much so that by the end of the year I was sure I’d done almost nothing. Yesterday, when I tallied it all up, I was pleasantly to find I’d written far more than I thought I had. I had written full drafts that I’d completely forgotten about. Drafts that I can continue revising and working with this year.

I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself. So let’s get started.

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2013. 

In addition to this list, I ran the 12 x 12 challenge all year, wrote new drafts and revised existing ones, and continued to contribute to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast. Whew! I’ll be sure to come back to this whenever I feel discouraged about how much I “don’t get done.” 🙂

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list!

Categories: 12 x 12, A Shiver of Sharks, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Apps, Authors, Bologna Children's Book Fair, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Crowdfunding, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Florence, Goals, Holidays, How I Got My Agent, Italy, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Storybook Apps, Travel, Video Idiot Boot Camp, Works in Progress, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new banner

Hello everyone! How was your August? Mine was thrilling, exhausting, rewarding, and memorable. Most notably, I had the honor of being on Faculty for the SCBWI-LA conference. I even got to ask many of my favorite authors and illustrators why they were grateful to create books for children. I even hijacked Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast so I could share their responses. Give it a listen if you haven’t already. Lots of inspiration tucked into 20 short minutes.

But the key question of the hour is: Did I write a PB draft in August? Did you? The answer for me is no, BUT I did do an extensive revision on an existing manuscript that had been eluding me for some time. I’m still not sure if I’ve gotten it “right,” but I am ecstatic that I’ll have something to share with my critique partners this month.

Now it is your turn. How did you fare in the dog days of summer (Northern Hemisphere)? Let us know in the comments and of course in the Rafflecopter.

Quick reminder: Submissions to our August featured agent Jennifer Mattson will close today at 6:00 p.m. Eastern/3:00 p.m. Pacific SHARP! Our September featured agent, John Cusick, will accept submissions from GOLD members in September. HOWEVER, John’s submission guidelines will be delayed for a few days because he is out of town for the Labor Day weekend. I will announce on the Forum and the Facebook Page once submissions to him are officially open. Thanks for your patience.

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win a critique from Corey Schwartz, even if you didn’t complete a draft!

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Critique with Corey Schwartz” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Corey’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Corey’s August 1st post. Commenting on Corey’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in August. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in August. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in August. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight Eastern on September 1st to enter your results. I will then have Rafflecopter draw a winner and announce it on the blog on September 2nd.

Many, many thanks to Corey for helping us earn our black belt in rhyme!

Finally, don’t forget to come back tomorrow to meet September’s awesome featured author!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Goofing off with Jim Averbeck, a contributor to this podcast episode, at the Black & White Ball.

Goofing off with Jim Averbeck, a contributor to this podcast episode, at the Black & White Ball.

Yesterday, I did something unprecedented. I hijacked Katie Davis‘ Brain Burps podcast. Took it all for myself!

Why?

So I could share all of the amazing, astounding gratitude quotes I got from faculty members at SCBWI-LA. The likes of Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Bruce Degen, Ellen Hopkins, David Diaz, Lin Oliver, Marla Frazee, Paul Zelinsky… The list goes on.

I so hope you will all listen because it will be impossible not be inspired (and perhaps a little teary) afterward. Plus it’s short. It had to be because I had Katie tied up in the closet with duct tape over her mouth!!

My apologies to Katie for taking such drastic measures, but I’ve been traveling so much I wasn’t able to write a Gratitude Sunday post after the LA conference. I think this podcast episode will do well in its place.

To use Jon Scieszka’s “word” from the conference (you’ll hear more about that in the podcast) — ENJOY!

Categories: Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Creativity, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, SCBWI, Travel, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Tim_Headshot_Jan2013I am positively giddy about introducing today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author. The timing could not be more fortuitous either, as Tim McCanna’s outstanding music is featured in my storybook app A SHIVER OF SHARKS, which was just released YESTERDAY! 

Tim tells the wonderful tale of how we came to meet and collaborate on both SHIVER and A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS, but I have to add my own two cents about how phenomenal its been to work with Tim every step of the way. Tim is exceptionally talented in so many ways, and if he has a fault at all it’s his modesty. Many of you who have been following my blog and publication path are familiar with Tim’s work on the apps, but just WAIT until you read his own app, TEENY TINY TRUCKS, releasing from Little Bahalia later this summer. You are in for such a treat! In the meantime, I’ll try to stop gushing and let Tim speak for himself. Please welcome Tim!!

HOW 12X12 PAVED MY PATH TO PUBLICATION

Okay, so technically, I am still a pre-published writer, but in a few months that will all change. Before I get to that, let’s go back in time to early December 2011. I had just finished Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month. Tara mentioned in a final email that some mystery woman named Julie Hedlund was inviting anyone to join her in this 12×12 challenge thingy. For me, it was an instant no-brainer. I need goals and deadlines. Badly. 12×12 hit the spot.

In early 2012, Julie announced that she was being interviewed on something called Brain Burps About Books. Huh? Whah? At the time I was podcast illiterate. But curiosity got the best of me, and I’m so glad it did. After listening to Julie’s Brain Burps episode, I devoured earlier podcasts hosted by author/illustrator Katie Davis. It’s a treasure trove of industry insights—all for free. I was so inspired by Katie’s contribution to the kidlit community, that I was stricken with song. A bouncy little Brain Burps jingle popped out of my head, so I recorded it and sent it as a 100th episode gift to Katie. It’s been her show-opening theme song ever since!

That experience was an awakening for me. Beyond writing and submitting over and over for the sake of getting published, I had finally found a personal way to contribute to the community. It was a discovery that came through a chain reaction of active participation. Without any ulterior motive, I wrote a song to say thanks and make someone smile. (By the way, that feels really good.) But I wasn’t done. There were more links to add to the chain.

I ended up writing a 6-month celebration song for 12×12 as well as a jingle for the Picture Book Academy. Then, in September I got an email with the best subject line ever: “Want to be in my app?” Julie loved the Brain Burps song and offered me the opportunity to write a sing-a-long version of the text for her story app, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys. And now it’s out there! Available to anyone in the world with an iPad! My son says I’m famous.

Around the same time, Julie released her App Proposal Template, which was based on the proposal that had landed her deal with Little Bahalia Publishing. I had a shelved app concept of my own that was going nowhere, so I bought the template and developed a much stronger app proposal for my story. After I wrapped up my work on Troop, I sent my proposal to Stacey at Little Bahalia. Within a week, I got a phone call! And so, Teeny Tiny Trucks is due out this summer. It’s being illustrated as we speak!

Now, did having a brief working experience with Little Bahalia help my chances of getting a contract? Maybe. I don’t know. I hope so. That’s kinda the point! My first publishing deal didn’t come from an anonymous, unsolicited slush pile submission. (Though I always daydreamed it happening that way.) It came through participating in writing challenges. It came through contributing to other people’s work. It came through building relationships and helping others. Katie Davis calls it reciprocity. Whatever you want to call it, the fact is, we all have our own paths to publication—if that’s your goal. After four years, I’m grateful for the path I finally found, and for the friends I’ve made along the way.

Tim McCanna writes books, music, and apps for children. He lives in Mountain View, CA with his wife Trudi and their two grade schoolers, Nate and Sophie. Learn more about Tim and watch his kidlit videos at www.timmccanna.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, A Shiver of Sharks, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Apps, Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Creativity, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Friendship, Guest Blogging, Music, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Social Media, Storybook Apps, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Julie_02

Please welcome author Julie Falatko to the How I Got My Agent series. Julie is a two-time member of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge and a friend to boot! We’re both Brain Burps girls, and although we have not (yet) met in person, I feel like I’ve known her forever. I’ve long since forgiven her for stealing snapping up the best blog name ever — World of Julie. I’m so happy for her and I know you will be too!

Julie, how long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one? What kind of research did you do before submitting?

When I started getting serious about writing, I researched all the publishers who accepted unagented submissions, and it quickly became clear I’d do better with an agent.

It was still another year-and-a-half after realizing I’d need an agent before I started submitting. I did a lot of research both into agents and into the querying process. It seemed like a lot of people were doing a LOT of querying, which is certainly one approach. But I know that my stories are a little quirky and weird, and might not be for everyone. I only sent queries to agents who seemed like they’d want my style of writing. It would be a waste of everyone’s time otherwise. (Seriously, some days I barely have time to tie my shoes. I definitely don’t have time to send a query to an agent who doesn’t like books like the ones I write.)

The dreaded questions: How many queries?  How many rejections?

Eleven queries. Of those, five were basic rejections. Two were what I call, in my spreadsheet, “lovely rejections,” meaning personal rejections. Those personal rejections kept me going.

And there was one more rejection that was above and beyond a lovely rejection. I want to frame this rejection. It was the most encouraging, heartening, happy-making rejection imaginable. I know not every agent has time to send a personal rejection, or even a response. But when agents are moved to write something that lets the writer know they’re not crazy for trying to do this thing, it makes a huge difference.

Two agents (Danielle and another one) wanted to see more of my work. When Danielle (Danielle Smith of ForeWord Literary) offered, I nudged the other agent and they said they were going to make me an offer also (!!) but were stepping aside given the situation.

How’s my math? (You see why I need an agent?) Eleven queries, I’ve mentioned ten responses. There was one more that kind of fell through the cracks – I sent a follow-up nudge after Danielle offered representation and never heard anything. That happens, too.  It’s ok.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author-only focusing solely on picture books?

Not really! But maybe that’s because I didn’t send out too many queries. All the information is out there. You look on QueryTracker and follow interesting agents on Twitter, and it’s pretty easy to make a list of agents to look at.

The greater focus for me was to find an agent who would think my stories were charming and funny, rather than shudder and try to quietly toss them out the nearest window.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

When I saw that Foreword Literary had formed in March, and that Danielle would be their picture book agent, I took another look at her blog, There’s a Book. And I saw that we have nearly identical taste in books.

So I sent off my story. I think you have to be really zen about submissions. You write your best story, you write your best query, and then there’s nothing else you can do. Forget about it for a while.

And so I was very, very excited when Danielle responded about two weeks later asking for more stories. And then about a week after that she emailed me to set up a phone call. And we all know (or hope we know) about The Call.

On the phone, over email, and online, Danielle is enthusiastic and extremely supportive. She is just as passionate about children’s books as I am (as we all are, those of you reading this). So I knew right away that I liked her, as a person. It was clear that she is also extremely organized, knowledgeable, connected, and would be good at contracts and things, so I knew she is also an excellent agent.

Do you think your platform (blog, reviewer on Brain Burps, etc.) helped you find your agent?

The very first question Danielle asked me on the phone was, “Do you still do the reviews for Brain Burps?” She was asking because the fact that I do picture book reviews shows that I have a knowledge of the industry. You know, I’m so surrounded by you all, these smart, smart writer people. But I guess there are people who just dash off what they think is a picture book and send it off to whomever. So doing the podcast reviews immediately put a big star over my head that said, “This one’s not a loon” (not for that reason, at least).

I will make no comment. 🙂

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

I can honestly say that I would not have an agent if it weren’t for 12×12. (I swear I didn’t hold her in a headlock and make her say that!!)

Last summer (2012) I had one story polished and submittable. So I submitted it, twice (and got rejected). But then a friend in my critique group got an agent, and the biggest lesson she shared from that experience was that you have to have at least three finished, polished stories before you even think about submitting.

So I stopped submitting to focus on writing. If you remember my 12×12 post from last year, 12×12 in 2012 gave me a lot of first drafts. I buckled down and finished them.

This process was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done. But it was something I passionately wanted to do, and felt like I had to do.

(There was another factor in this, and that was my incredibly supportive husband. He has a particular brand of tough-love motivation that works brilliantly for me. And so he said, “You’ve been talking about writing for years now. Enough. Either do it or don’t. But if you’re going to do it, do it.” And he was right. Was I going to do this or not?)

I put my younger two kids in preschool two days a week, and my husband forbid me from running errands on those days. So I revised, and I wrote. I focused more than I knew I could. It was a blast.

Okay, I have to interject here and say I love your husband! I mean, I don’t LOVE love him, because that would be wrong, but what a superstar for both supporting AND pushing you!!

And while I was working 12×12 kept rolling. And I’m proud to say that my December, January, March, April, and May drafts are all either done or at their final stages with Danielle.

12×12 taught me that the more you write, the better your writing gets. I know, I know. Caveman Writer Guy pretty much wrote that sentiment on the cave walls in mammoth blood. But still, it’s one thing to know it, and another thing to experience it yourself. It’s practice. And the more I write, the less my drafts are like those things from the beginning of 2012, which I’m going to use for firestarters the next time I go camping.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

The first thing would be to take your time. Get those three (or more!) stories ready. Join a critique group. Revise a lot.

Write a lot, too. Expect to write some terrible stories. That’s ok. You need to get the terrible ones out of your system. They’re all stepping stones to your amazing stories.

The second would be to do your research. There’s often a lot of information online about agents. Find out as much as you can. Does the agent seem like someone who would like your stuff? Who would be able to sell your manuscripts? Do you like what you read about the agent?

And do your research about how to query, too. There are approximately one gazillion articles on the internet about proper query formatting, and common agent pet peeves. It’s pretty easy to figure this stuff out. Take your time, and do it right.

You have four children. Have you ever considered selling them in order to fund attendance at writer’s conferences?

I think it is worth noting that I’ve never been to a writer’s conference. I know they’re amazing, and a great way to meet agents. But they’re not a necessity. I have a lot of wee children, and the time and money for going to writer’s conferences never grew out of that tree I planted in the backyard expressly for that purpose.

Despite the fact that I am a self-professed conference junkie, I think it is HUGELY inspiring that you found your agent through the standard, “available to everyone” query process. It just goes to show all of us that talent does rise to the top. There are as many paths as there are writers. The most important thing, always, is the craft.

I still think the most important thing to do if you want to get an agent, to sell a book, is to write. A lot. Work on your craft. There are so many “other” things you can do – go to conferences, blog, join 12×12, Tweet, Tumbl, Foofinfarf (that’s a new one I just made up; it’ll be super hot by next week). Do those things if you can, but first, always, write.

Oh! But that’s not what you asked me. My children, I’m afraid, are not worth much on the open market. Instead I am training them to do all the housework so that I can spend more time writing. So far it’s going…well, look around. You can see how it’s going. Watch out! Don’t step there! Yeah, ok. It’s not going so well so far. Though my 7 year-old does make a fabulous English muffin pizza.

Julie Falatko writes picture books from her home in Maine, which she shares with her husband and four children. She reviews picture books for Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books podcast, blogs at worldofjulie.com, and bakes when she’s procrastinating. You can find her on Twitter at @JulieFalatko.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Creativity, Family, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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